"Taanyth wants you to help me catch the Alok?” I asked.
Nyx grinned as she strapped on her gauntlet and ran a hand over the brass plating. “Yeah. Weird, isn’t it?”
“It’s insane,” Laryn growled. “The Alchemist can’t be trusted.” I agreed.
“I’m not the problem here,” Nyx retorted.
“You tried to kill me yesterday!” I objected.
“That was, what, eighteen hours ago?” she replied. “Anyway, I understand that Taanyth said you would save the world, and you obviously need me because you’re new at this and, let’s face it, the elves haven’t gotten so far. So what’s he doing here?” She gestured at Laryn.
“The Alok took my sister, Fae,” the elf replied. “And Taanyth needed someone to supervise your progress. I volunteered.”
Nyx’s eyebrow shot up. “You’re our babysitter?”
“No,” he said. “I’m your supervisor.”
The girl sighed. “Alright. Corso. You’re a pyromancer, yes? How accomplished are you?”
“Your first time using magic was when you shot a fireball at me, wasn’t it?” Nyx replied.
“Yeah,” I admitted.
Nyx groaned again. “Of course. Starting from scratch,” she said. “Laryn, how about you?”
“I’m a pretty good archer,” he said. “And a decent swordsman.”
“I hope you’re being modest,” she grumbled. “Okay, Corso, we’re going to have to start your training.”
“Why do I need training?” I asked. “Shouldn’t we be trying to track down the Alok before anyone else goes missing?”
Without warning, Nyx’s metallic fist slammed into me. The breath shot from my chest and I was knocked to the ground. Confused and annoyed, I surged to my feet, swinging a punch at the Alchemist’s face. She swayed easily to the side and twisted my arm behind my back. I was immobilized.
Nyx released me. “That’s why you need training.” I glared, but she ignored me and walked out the door of the tree. “Coming?”
I could feel a bruise developing where Nyx had punched me as Laryn lead us to an arena of sorts. It was a circle about fifty feet across, with a smooth, grassy ground. Unlike the rest of the village, there were no vines or roots crisscrossing the ground and no bushes popping out of the ground.
“What are we doing here?” I growled.
“You’re going to learn magic,” Nyx said. She backed away from me a few paces. Laryn stood at the edge of the arena with his arms crossed, observing us in silence.
“Shoot a fireball at me,” the Alchemist commanded.
“You heard me.” Nyx’s hands hung loosely at her sides and she had adopted a non-threatening stance. The prospect of imminent death by fire didn’t seem to concern her in the slightest.
“I… Remember how that went the last time?” I replied. I tried to stay nonchalant, but I found that although I didn’t really want to hurt her, part of me did want to blast her with fire. I was still annoyed that she’d punched me and then dismantled my attack, she’d tried to kill me the day before, and I didn’t trust her. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had plenty of reasons to attack her. Anyway, the Alchemist wouldn’t ask me to shoot her if she couldn’t handle it.
This brought up another problem: I couldn’t. When Nyx attacked me, I’d acted entirely on instinct. I’d had no idea what I was doing or how I was doing it. Afterward, I’d tried to replicate the event in the tree room Taanyth had provided, but I hadn’t gotten so much as a spark. Whatever power I’d developed had disappeared as quickly as it had come.
“I don’t have all day, Ghostfire,” Nyx coaxed. “Come on. Just one fireball.”
“I… can’t,” I said with a slight droop in my posture.
“That’s what I thought.” She pulled a candle from her pocket and tossed it to me. “Light that.”
I was becoming embarrassed about my woefully inadequate knowledge of magic.
“How?” was my abashed reply.
“Come here.” Nyx motioned me over to her and sat down. I followed suit. “Give me the candle.” I did, and she drove it into the ground. I noticed Laryn was watching us with a new intensity. “Magic is an energy,” the Alchemist explained. “An energy that, for whatever reason, can allow some people to do incredible things or imbue objects with power. In it’s purest form, magic is called æther. You can see it in the air the same way you can see electricity in lightning. Æther is a flowing blue mist, but that’s not the point. Æther is everywhere, surrounding us at all times. It’s what holds this universe and the rest together. All it needs from you is direction. Concentrate on the candle, and visualize it for what it really is. Visualize the fiber of the wick. Imagine the air molecules surrounding it combusting, and focus all of your willpower into that task. Magic and science aren’t so different. All you’re doing is directing energy.”
I took a deep breath and focused on the candle, on heat streaming into the wick. A tiny wisp of smoke trailed from the string. I was so shocked by my success that I completely lost focus.
“I did it! Did you see that? It smoked!” I gasped.
Nyx gave me a bemused smile. “Yes, I’m sure your smoking candle will defeat the Alok. Again.”
I focused on the candle, willing it to burn, and this time, a tiny flame burst from the wick. I felt a surge of excitement. This was working! I was making progress! I was learning magic!
The Alchemist raised an eyebrow, mustering a pleased expression. “That was quick. Go stand by that tree,” she said, pointing. I rose and moved over to the tree. “Light the candle.”
I reached out with my mind, drawing heat towards the candle. It took more effort than before, but the candle lit again.
“That’s….impressive,” Nyx said, but something seemed off about her expression.
“What is it?” I asked.
“You’re acting odd,” I said. “You can’t do it, can you?”
“Nyx, you’re very intelligent,” Laryn said, breaking his silence. “It doesn’t suit you to play dumb.”
“You can’t light the candle,” I said.
“With magic? I probably could if I mustered enough energy,” she said. “But no, not easily. I can think of a thousand other ways to do it. With a burst of fire from my gauntlet. With a match. Transmute the candle into sodium and drip water on it. It’s just... magic has never really been my strong suit.”
I had never seen Nyx do anything with anything less than complete nonchalance and success. It was strange to be better at something than her.
Nyx pushed herself to her feet. “Alright, Pyromancer,” she said. “You’ve got the basics down. Let’s try something more complicated. Shoot a fireball at me.”
I must have looked unhappy with the idea, because Nyx said, “Come on, Corso, it took you, what, a full fifteen seconds to light a candle with your brain? It takes most people hours or more. Anyway, you’ve done this before.”
I closed my eyes and held out my hand so that it faced Nyx the way I had when she’d attacked me the day before. With only a touch of trepidation, I put all of my willpower into pushing fire from my palm. I opened my eyes, but the fire that shot out of my hand couldn’t have lit a campfire.
Nyx grimaced. “Well, I guess that was too much to hope for,” she said. “Still, in a week I’ll have you burning down cities.”
“Why would you have me burn down cities?”
Nyx ignored my question. “Laryn, it’s your turn.”
The elf raised an eyebrow. “My turn?”
“You’re going to teach Corso to use a sword.”